Your guide to 'Veganuary': Plant-based recipes to help you start the new year off right

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Are you cutting back on meat or going entirely plant-based for so-called "Veganuary?" Like "Soberary," Veganuary is a way to cut back on the excess of the holidays. But in the latter instance, it means trying to go entirely meat- and dairy-free for a month, which seems like a daunting task. 

Here, we've compiled some recipes to get you started. But first, a tofu primer from Nasoya, which specializes in plant-based proteins.

What tofu should I buy?

Super firm tofu: Great for crispy tofu, grilled kebabs, stir-fries and more.

Extra firm tofu: Best used in tofu nuggets, pan-fried dishes and sandwiches.

Firm tofu: Used in a wide range of dishes, from soups to baked goods.

Silken tofu: Perfect for smoothies, sauces, dips and creamy desserts.

What other proteins should I try?

There are plenty of other protein options on the market besides tofu. It's worth noting that plant-based does not necessarily mean healthier; fake meats and cheeses can be ultra-processed and full of fat and preservatives. Just check the label.

However, if you don't care about that, the Beyond Meat products are outstanding. We love the spicy Beyond Breakfast Sausage in a breakfast burrito with the vegan egg replacement Just Egg. You could easily believe you're eating the real thing. 

We also love tempeh for its flavor, even when we're not skipping meat. It's basically a cultured soybean patty. Not into soy? Smiling Hara makes a peanut and hemp-based tempeh called "Hempeh." It's delicious. Hempeh needs to be cooked and makes excellent sandwiches. 

You'll find plenty of other options at your grocery store. Just look around, and feel free to email me at mlunsford@southernkitchen.com with questions. 

Now, try your hand at these vegan recipes.

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Vegan quinoa 'meatloaf'

We love this "meatloaf" with either mashed potatoes or rice. Fresh green beans and salad take this meal to another level.

This quinoa 'meatloaf' can make a great vegan centerpiece.

This recipe comes from Blackberry Soul chef Rene Johnson, author of From My Heart to Your Table: Vegan and Traditional Soul Food Cookbook.

Ingredients

For the loaf:

3 cups cooked quinoa (follow the directions on the package)

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

2 cups fresh cooked spinach

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans roughly chopped (save the juice)

1 teaspoon fresh garlic

1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoon ground flaxseeds

1 1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon granulated onion 

1 teaspoon granulated garlic 

1 teaspoon pepper 

For the gravy:

1/2 cup olive oil 

1/2 cup flour 

2 1/2 cups water 

1 1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon pepper 

1 teaspoon paprika 

5 sprigs fresh thyme 

1 teaspoon vegan chi’ken bouillon (optional) 

Instructions

For the loaf: Drain garbanzo beans, reserving the juice in a small bowl. Roughly chop chickpeas.

In the bowl with garbanzo bean juice, add flaxseeds, stirring until well blended, about 5 minutes. Mixture will start to thicken and become slimy. This will act as your binding agent for your meatloaf. Set aside and let sit for 15 minutes.

In large mixing bowl add cooked quinoa, onions, bell peppers, cooked spinach, roughly chopped garbanzo beans, garlic, breadcrumbs and olive oil. Mix well with either your hands or a large spoon. Mixture will be sticky.

Spray large baking dish with non-stick spray. Using a large spoon, scoop mixture into the baking dish. Place scoops in the middle of baking dish. Each scoop will touch the other, which will allow you to form a loaf. Place in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside.

For the gravy: 

Heat oil in large skillet on high. Add flour to oil, stirring constantly, lower heat to medium-high, stirring constantly until flour mixture begins to turn a golden brown.

Important: Add water, stirring constantly, making sure to break down any lumps. Cook on medium-low for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Make sure your gravy does not stick or burn. Gravy will come to a slow bubble and thicken. Taste for salt preference.

Pour gravy over cooked meatloaf, cover with foil and cook in oven for 15 minutes, making sure gravy penetrates the meatloaf. Remove from oven. 

Umami-rich vegetable soup

This vegan soup from chef Virginia Willis doesn’t require a homemade vegetable stock or too much time over the stove. It is what is ingloriously referred to in the parlance of food writers as a “dump-and-stir” — but absolutely packed with flavor. (The secret is a shot of umami-packed miso.)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered  

1 onion, chopped

3 carrots, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (32-ounce) container low-sodium vegetable juice 

2 cups water

1 (14.5-ounce) can whole or stewed tomatoes

1 tablespoon miso or tomato paste

2 bay leaves, preferably fresh

1 sprig fresh thyme

2 cups shelled fresh butter beans (about 1 1/2 pounds unshelled) or frozen butter beans, thawed

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 2 cups)

4 ounces fresh okra, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrots and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the vegetable juice, tomatoes, miso, bay leaves and thyme. Stir to combine. Add the butterbeans and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook until the vegetables are just tender, about 15 minutes.

Vegan "creamed" spinach

This recipe is courtesy of Nasoya

Ingredients

1 16-ounce container Nasoya Organic or other silken tofu

2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast (adjust based on how “cheesy” you’d like the creamed spinach to taste)

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

Juice of 1 lemon

2 10-ounce (or 1 16-ounce) packages frozen, chopped spinach

2 teaspoons olive oil*

2 shallots, very thinly sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Heat the frozen spinach according to package instructions.

Press it firmly through a colander to remove as much moisture as you can. Set the spinach aside.

Place the tofu, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic and onion powder, and lemon juice in a blender and blend till smooth.

Heat the oil over medium in a large skillet. Add the shallots and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often, or until they're gently browning. Add the spinach and the blended tofu mixture.

Heat, stirring as you go, until the ingredients are mixed and warm through. Taste and add extra salt and/or freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Vegan cornbread

This dairy-free cornbread pairs well with anything soupy and comforting. This recipe comes from Blackberry Soul chef Rene Johnson, author of "From My Heart to Your Table: Vegan and Traditional Soul Food Cookbook."

Classic Southern Cornbread

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup sugar or 2/3 cup if you prefer sweeter

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup of whole oat milk

1/2 stick of melted avocado butter

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking pan with choice of non-stick technique.

Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in medium-size mixing bowl.

In another mixing bowl add oat milk, 1/2 cup melted butter. Mix well until nice and smooth. Add milk mixture to flour mixture, until well blended. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and firm to touch.

Vegan peach cobbler

This recipe is courtesy of "Orchids + Sweet Tea."

This Vegan Southern Peach Cobbler is a beautiful rendition of a classic cobbler. It has a true Southern touch and is entirely vegan. Sweet maple-cinnamon biscuits are the perfect buttery topping to serve with dairy-free ice cream for a delightful dessert. 

Vegan Peach Cobbler from Orchids + Sweet Tea.

Ingredients

For the cobbler topping:

1 cup organic all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup organic brown sugar

1/4 cup organic cane sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup vegan butter, cut into pieces

1/4 cup almond milk + 2 tablespoons (you can sub your favorite plant-based milk)

For the peach filling:

10 medium fresh peaches, sliced 

1/2 cup organic brown sugar

1/2 cup organic cane sugar

1 teaspoon arrowroot starch or cornstarch

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup vegan butter

1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a medium 10-inch skillet with vegan butter.

For the Maple Cinnamon Biscuit Topping:

In a large bowl, add together the flour, baking powder, both sugars, cinnamon and salt, whisking everything until combined.

Add in the butter and using a pastry blender (or two forks), blend the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is pea-sized.

Add the milk and stir everything together using a rubber spatula until just combined. Note: Don't overmix!

For the peach filling:

In a large bowl, toss together the sliced peaches, both sugars, arrowroot, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and vanilla, mixing until well combined and peaches are fully coated. Place the peach mixture into the prepared skillet, evenly spreading everything out. Add pieces of butter in between peaches, tucking them in slightly.

Using a spoon or large ice cream scoop, scoop 2 tablespoons of dough at a time and place onto the peaches about an inch apart.

Brush biscuits with a bit of melted butter and bake for 35-40 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown and peaches are bubbling through. 

Remove the cobbler from the oven and serve immediately with a scoop of your favorite dairy-free ice cream or CocoWhip. 

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com